A Reflection on Season Nine of KNOTS LANDING (1987-1988)
Ah, what a sweet breath of fresh air this was after the most unfortunate season eight. Before I start talking about season nine, I wanna take a moment to go over my thoughts on the previous season, where everything seemed to go so horribly wrong. To be clear, there is no season of KL that I could ever bring myself to call “Bad,” but season eight came the closest out of all the seasons we’ve watched so far (we haven't gotten to season thirteen yet, but I know many fans shudder in horror at the very mention of that year). Hackney was a hot wet fart that permeated the entire experience, infecting nearly every character at one point or another. The cast was way too bloated with too much generally uninteresting stuff with Peter, lacking stories for J.B., and Paige Matheson bulldozing her way into the series and immediately hogging the spotlight from our more seasoned veteran characters. As I said before, the season bottomed out with the wretched Nightmare, an episode that lived up to its title, and then I felt it actually started to improve itself a little in the concluding hours of the year, and that brings us straight into season nine.
Season nine is a tremendous improvement, and it’s all the more impressive when you realize that pretty much the entire creative team from season eight also did season nine. I think the powers-that-be were aware that season eight was a misfire, that things got a little out of hand and the show began to lose its focus on what it had always been about. The show became too much about silly nonsense like spies and goofy international intrigue, and it was easy to forget that the series was originally about married life on a cul-de-sac. I think season nine does a very conscious and pretty successful job of shifting the focus back to our core cast and keeping the stories in the cul-de-sac. This season probably feels the most domesticated since, oh, perhaps season four, when we were beginning that transition from smaller stories to more Super Soap stories.
Right off the bat, the show does the smart thing by thinning out the cast quite a bit. We start with Peter Hollister, who was buried in cement in the final moments of season eight. The mystery of “Who Killed Peter Hollister?” takes up the first chunk of eps for the season, before we move on to the controversial exoduses of Laura and Lilimae. Let me just say I’m relieved to be rid of Peter; I thought I liked him as we were working our way through season seven, but by the midpoint of season eight, I was just bored and annoyed with him and his way too overly convoluted storyline. Now that I look back, I feel like Peter (and, to a lesser extent, J.B. during the seventh season) is a sign of David Paulsen as the showrunner, getting so wrapped up in his own cleverness and slowly revealing all these new layers and secrets about who Peter really is. However, it just wound up being not that interesting, and I think simply killing off the character and forgetting about him is the right choice. By the time he died, any interest I once had in him had dissipated and he was just plain boring.
Okay, so we get rid of him, and I’m glad about that, and then we move on to Laura and Lilimae. I know this stuff is very contentious with fans; after all, both characters are veterans of the series, Laura having been around since literally the very first scene of the very first ep, and Lilimae having been an important character all the way since season three (she also had that one isolated appearance in season one, but you know what I mean). At first, I wasn’t sure what I would make of this. The truth is that when I think back over my college viewing of the show, I don’t remember having a problem with either of them leaving. Watching it again, I still don’t. I understand it pisses off the fans that the ladies were let go for purely budget reasons, that they were essentially fired and then shown the exit door quickly so that the show could save money. Yeah, that’s all true, and that’s the unfortunate behind-the-scenes reality that goes on in so many shows. As a part of the larger story, however, I still think it works. I’ll start by discussing Lilimae, who meets Red Buttons, falls pretty quickly in love, and then takes off with him for adventures unknown. You all know I loved the Lilimae character and think that, in all seriousness, Julie Harris was probably the most talented member of the entire cast for the whole time she was on the series. However, the character wasn’t getting shit to do. After Joshua took that plunge off the roof, Lilimae spent the rest of season seven moping and even sitting out several eps. Then we get into season eight and I don’t think I can name one important thing Lilimae did; can you? The only time that she felt somewhat a part of proceedings was when she got involved in Olivia’s cocaine storyline, and even that felt like the writers being like, “Shit, we haven’t given her anything to do; let’s try to glue her into this coke storyline.” It just made me sad to watch this great character and this great actress be put in the background and ignored all year, and I would really rather have her drive off to live happily ever after than spend the rest of the series in the background, not getting anything to do. The only flaw for me is that her exit is very fast. She meets Al Baker and they take off together just a few eps later. It does feel a bit like the writers saying, “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out,” but I still prefer this to the idea of Lilimae moping in the background until 1993.
That brings us to Laura. Lots of fans just hate her death, but I’m not one of them. Laura was suffering from the same problems Lilimae suffered from, not getting shit to do in season eight aside from being pregnant (and that’s just because Constance was actually pregnant in real life). It’s been a pretty consistent flaw that ever since Greg Sumner was introduced to the proceedings in season five, Laura became more an extension of his stories and didn’t really get her own individual stories to work with. I would rather see her death lead to good stories, which I would argue it certainly does, then have her continue to just sorta hang around to bounce the occasional witty comment off of Greg. Also, while it’s tempting to say that her exit has that similar feeling of the powers-that-be just trying to get her off the show as quickly as possible, I actually think it’s tremendously in keeping with the Laura character. Laura was always a still-waters-run-deep character who seemed to have more going on beneath the surface than you might think at first glance. She was always somewhat wrapped in mystery, and I think the way she chooses to leave her friends and go die alone fits with the character we established over the course of some 200 episodes. Yeah, the show could have gone full Terms of Endearment and had Laura slowly suffer from her brain tumor for a good chunk of the season, but instead she takes matters into her own hands, accepts her fate, and then goes off to die alone. Is it sad? Absolutely, but that’s also the point, and it brings us to those extra strange Noises Everywhere eps which, even if they weren’t as brilliant as I may have once thought, are still very interesting and give us a chance to explore the characters in a new way. I also continue to argue that Laura’s death does have tremendous ramifications for the other characters. Watching Greg cope with the single life after the only woman he ever really loved (sorry, Jane) dies is exceptionally interesting, and all the stuff involving Greg and Meg is just fascinating.
The cast was too bloated during seasons seven and eight, so trimming some cast members actually helps to give this season a more intimate flavor, bringing memories of season one when there were only eight people in the entire cast. Even so, we do get some new characters to the cul-de-sac in the form of the Williams family, characters I love a lot and am excited to see here. I pretty much love everything about this family and their storyline; I love how they arrive draped in mystery, but that the astute viewer can figure out that they probably didn’t do anything bad, that they are hiding from something else. The writers also do a good job of not drawing this mystery out forever the way they might have been tempted to do during the last two seasons. We first meet Pat and Julie in the thirteenth ep of the season, Only ‘Til Friday, and then we meet Frank a few eps later, in If Not Now, When? We get a good chunk of eps in which we’re not really sure what is up with this family, but it’s all resolved by episode 22 of the season, Full Disclosure. So that’s a span of nine eps from the Williams family making their first appearance to us knowing exactly what’s going on with them, and that’s a good number to stretch out a mystery; I feel like if this was done in the previous year, the writers would have tried desperately to stretch it out over 20 or 25 eps.
I think this might possibly be Sumner’s most interesting year on the series thus far. Losing Laura and wrestling with his feelings towards Meg lets us see a new side of his character, and our heart goes out to him. He’s been so interesting ever since he arrived on the series, mostly because of his ability to stay likable even while occasionally doing villainous things. Here, we start to see a more human side of him, an emotional side that hurts and feels pain. Everyone remembers his tremendous scene in Noises Everywhere: Part Two in which he finally breaks down while watching Laura’s last words to him. This is one of Devane’s finest moments, but he continues to be excellent throughout the rest of the year, even in small ways, like a quick scene of him looking sadly at a photo of himself with Laura. We know he’s thinking of Laura all year, and that helps to further my case that Laura’s death is not in vain. She’s not killed and then shuffled under the carpet; instead she continues to hang around with an almost Laura Palmer quality, effecting Greg’s choices all year.
Another great aspect of season nine is how the writers return the focus to Gary and Val. Thinking back over season eight, we really didn’t have a lot of great Gary/Val footage. Yes, both characters were on the series and both characters were getting stories, but we didn’t get too much of them together, and season nine really makes up for that. Honestly, the whole storyline with Gary wanting visitation rights to the twins and Val denying that to him is probably my (second) favorite part of the year. I just loved this because it felt like classic KL, in which we know both characters and understand both characters and love both characters, so we find it impossible to pick sides. Val has been burned by Gary too much and she starts the season having been freshly burned by Ben, her second attempt at love, so we understand why she would be distrustful of Gary reentering her life. At the same time, Gary has shaped up tremendously the last few years and hasn’t had a drink in five years, so he deserves to see the children that everyone knows are rightfully his. One of the aspects I appreciated the very most about this story was that it wraps up fairly inauspiciously. Again, the writers could have drawn this out forever if they wanted to. They could have had this all lead to an epic court battle that takes up half the season or maybe more, but instead they have Val realize that she’s being cruel to Gary and finally admitting to him that, yes, the babies are his. The moment where she finally says that feels amazingly cathartic, because it’s been an ongoing story since 1983 with …And Never Brought to Mind, when Gary and Val shared their isolated night of nonstop passion and created the babies. While the words “Val’s babies” usually makes me leap to the season six storyline of the babies being taken from her and the doctors telling her that they died, in a way, you could argue that “Val’s babies” is a storyline that goes all the way from …And Never Brought to Mind to The Blushing Bride, when Val finally admits the truth. That’s a tremendous span of eps, going from ep 81 to ep 208, a gap of 127 eps, which is basically the entire run of any other successful show. It’s this stuff that makes me so happy that KL goes on so long; we are able to have stories like this that span over five years, so when we reach a conclusion, by God, you really feel it.
I said the Gary/Val stuff was my second favorite part of the season, and I think you all know what my very favorite part of the year is, and that would be Psycho Jill. I’ve been waiting for Psycho Jill ever since she was first introduced, and she does not disappoint upon second viewing. First off, I think everything throughout the season pretty organically leads us to Psycho Jill; it doesn’t feel like it comes out of nowhere. She starts the year upset over the death of her brother, and then she begins to realize she’s gonna lose Gary to Val, and then the twins start to infiltrate her life and she can’t come home without stumbling over toy trucks or finding Gary and the twins waiting for her. Then she starts to drink too much, and if this was Dallas, I feel like that would be the entire storyline. They would just sorta turn Psycho Jill into a sad drunk and then exploit some stories out of it, but KL is the better series and it goes in more surprising directions. We watch Psycho Jill grow more wicked throughout the concluding hours of the year, and then it all comes to a head with the tremendous scene between her and Val in The Perfect Crime. Everything about this storyline is just as good as I remembered, if not better, and I especially love the way that, while we viewers love Val and sympathize with her, we find ourselves kinda flipping out loyalties and sorta hoping that Psycho Jill will get away with her crime. I also think this story unleashes Teri Austin’s talents, that we really get to see her shine. While I’ve loved the character the whole time, she was really getting the shaft in season eight and I kinda felt bad for the actress getting so little interesting to do. Fortunately, this season and of course the next one more than make up for it. Psycho Jill remains a highlight of the entire series for me.
However, it’s not all perfect this year, and there are still some significant flaws. I think the worst flaw of the season is that Abs just doesn’t get anything that interesting to do. I really disliked her storyline with Basil Exposition; in fact, I might even go so far as to say that I hated it. I never felt a need to be spoon-fed a reason for why Abs is the way she is. She arrived to the cul-de-sac in season two and we didn’t really know much about her life up to that point and I was fine with that. For whatever reason, life events have turned Abs into Abs, the woman we have been following since 1980. I really didn’t need to be presented with some fairly lame storyline about her one true love from back in the ‘60s and how that one true love broke her heart and turned her cynical. First off, it’s too much explaining and I like mystery. You all remember how much better Hannibal Lecter was in Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs, when we really didn’t know very much about him? Then, they kept making more books and more movies and they kept telling us too much about him, information I didn’t really want to know. I liked that Hannibal was crazy and liked to eat people, and that was all I needed to know. Finding out that he was in love with some Japanese chick and that he got trained in using swords or whatever, that shit did nothing for me except irritate. That’s how I feel about Abs this year, and then to top it off, what a boring explanation for why Abs is the way she is. It really all boils down to her being in love when she was young and her heart being broken? You couldn’t find a more interesting way to explain things? And then, of course, we have the fatal miscasting of Basil Exposition, who looks like he’d rather be on any other series besides this one; you can just sense the fact that he thinks this is beneath him, and it permeates the story and ruins it. Plus, for all the compliments I gave about how this season keeps the stories moving, this one goes on for fucking ever, and it’s also really really dull. I kept thinking we had seen the last of Basil, and then we would start another ep and, wouldn’t you know it, there he was, still being boring and snooty. Then, once Basil finally goes away, I feel like Abs just sorta goes into fretting mother mode, mostly wringing her hands and worrying about whatever trouble Olivia has gotten herself into. Season ten will mark Donna’s last on the series, so I really hope they give her something juicy to work with before she heads for the exit doors. Oh yeah, and one more thing, but what Donna says in interviews about L & L is absolutely correct; they do make Abs too nice. I’ve always appreciated that Abs is a multi-faceted character with lots of intricacies, but I feel like if you only showed just this one season to a new viewer, they wouldn’t even know that Abs is supposed to be the villainous character of the series. I feel like she’s just totally neutered and, while Donna always gives a good performance and makes her stories work pretty okay, it’s sad to see her lose her edge.
Another flaw is Johnny Rourke. I don’t detest this character the way so many fans do, but he’s certainly not very interesting, and what the hell was with the singing? I honestly found myself yearning for Lisa Hartman to return to the series this year as we had to suffer through several Johnny songs. This man can not sing and I have no idea how the creative team didn’t see that, indeed forcing us to listen to several awful songs from him. You guys couldn’t even dub him over with a good singer? Or at least stop after just one song, when you realize it’s not working? In addition, the shit with him dealing drugs with Leland Palmer is, you know, fine, but it’s also not all that interesting. I think I like him when he’s with Paige cuz he’s able to tease her and bring out some new aspects of that character, but he’s hardly a character I’ll remember fondly once he’s left the series. Again, he’s a nice drink of water when put up against Hackney, but he’s still not a very compelling character and he does take up too much attention, and that God damned singing, my God. It's almost like something out of a ZAZ parody, like Val Kilmer in Top Secret! or something.
Also, the season does start to lose some of its energy in the closing hours. Everything is going along fine, until the young characters hit Mexico and the older veterans get tied up in that boring ass Manny Vasquez storyline. The worst thing about these stories is that they mix in with the brilliant story of Psycho Jill. I’m watching, I’m enjoying the shit out of everything Psycho Jill is doing, but then my boner is immediately killed whenever we cut over to Mexico or to Lotus Point for the Manny Vasquez stuff. I reiterate that the writers would have been wise to let the last two eps of the season be about just Psycho Jill and nothing else. Put the other characters on the back burner for awhile and just let us stay with Psycho Jill and her elaborate plan. There’s so much energy to that storyline and then all the air is let out of the balloon whenever we go back to the boring stuff.
Now for season highs and lows. I had to chew on this one for awhile, because there were a lot of eps I really liked in this season. I was originally gonna say that either The Perfect Alibi or The Perfect Crime were the best eps of the season, but now that I realize how infected they are by the boring side stories, I can’t do that. I finally settled on Bouncing Babies, which I think is a tremendously sad ep written very well by Devane. I always love when the actors write scripts and are able to write for their own characters from a new slant, and I think that’s what Devane does here. We get to be inside of his head in a new way as he makes the decision to give Meg permanently over to the MacKenzies, and then of course that final shot of him burning the playhouse is one of the most memorable endings of the whole show. For the worst of the season, hmmmm, let me think. I decided to pick Discovery, which comes right near the end of the season and is almost a complete and 100% bore. The only good part of this ep is the Psycho Jill stuff, but that’s actually rather small when put up against the boring shit in Mexico or at Lotus Point. This is the ep that Brother slept through and at first I went into a fit of rage about it, but then later I realized if you were gonna sleep through one ep, this would be the one to choose, as nothing much happens. Honestly, who cares about Paige and Johnny and Sexy Michael in Mexico? The only good thing to come out of the entire storyline was Sexy Michael walking around without a shirt on, and while that was obviously a very glorious thing, there’s no reason he had to be shipped into this crap storyline to take his shirt off; he can take his shirt off any old time, as far as I’m concerned, and I will be happy.
The thing I find most impressive about this season is that it shows KL’s ability to bounce back. Most shows, if they delivered a season as weak as season eight, they would be beginning their steady decline and never let up on that decline. I feel like the creators and writers of this show are able to be introspective and say, “Okay, well, that didn’t work out too good,” and then figure out how to fix the problems and move forward. Most shows would just keep getting worse and then eventually be quietly cancelled, but KL figures out what’s wrong, fixes it, and then proceeds onwards. I think we will see a similar situation when we hit season thirteen, but that’s a discussion for another day far in the future.
Alright, let’s talk about the rankings of the nine seasons we have now watched. I really struggled with whether or not I would put season nine above season seven, but I finally settled on putting season seven ahead of it. Why? Mostly because I feel the first ten eps of season seven are so great that they more than make up for some lackluster storytelling in the second 2/3 of the year. Also, season seven has problems, but it still feels pretty linked to my very favorite year, season six, and I also think it has more interesting music and cinematography than season nine. However, this is definitely a colossal improvement over season eight and I’d still probably rather watch this year than the first three seasons, so I think my ranking is gonna go a little something like this:
1) Season Six (1984-1985)
2) Season Five (1983-1984)
3) Season Four (1982-1983)
4) Season Seven (1985-1986)
5) Season Nine (1987-1988)
6) Season Two (1980-1981)
7) Season One (1979-1980)
8) Season Three (1981-1982)
9) Season Eight (1986-1987)
And that oughta do it for my Reflection. I’m excited to get to season ten, which I remember being tremendously enjoyable, but I also wanna warn my faithful readers that it's probably gonna be awhile so some patience will be required. I'll be honest and say I haven't even written anything yet, and this is the first time I've reached a point where I have absolutely nothing written. I've always had a healthy back catalogue of episode writeups ready to go, but by this point, not so much, so it's gonna be awhile. Rest assured, the blog will not die; I've got nine seasons done out of the fourteen and I am devoted to finishing up, but it's gonna be some time. Just be patient and I will return at some point in future, and we will power right along to the season ten premiere, Suicidal.